ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is becoming a priority for businesses that want to identify risks and growth opportunities in the face of increasingly dire climate change news, such as the latest UN “code red” report.
Released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August 2021, the report made headlines around the world. But at over 4,000 pages long, the report, in which hundreds of scientists analyze some 14,000 studies, can seem overwhelming. The report calls for action. But what should that action look like, practically, on the ground level?
ESG-focused regulators, investors, as well as employees and customers, are all looking for a response from businesses. While much attention will be on what high-level solutions must be undertaken by governments and large corporations, here are 3 practical actions even small businesses can take to address climate change, impact ESG, and help them prepare for a changing tomorrow, while guarding their bottom lines today.
1) Reduce Waste, Target Methane
For the first time, the IPCC report puts a focus on methane.
When we think of climate change, we think of carbon dioxide. But methane is the better heat trapper. Methane (CH4) can hold 100 times more heat than carbon dioxide (CO2), and it stays in the atmosphere for only about a decade, versus carbon dioxide, which can remain for centuries.
This means that “cutting methane is the single biggest and fastest strategy for slowing down warming,” says IPCC report reviewer Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development in Washington, D.C.
“Because it doesn’t last very long in the atmosphere, once we start reducing the emissions, you can really see the atmospheric concentration goes down… and that is very different from carbon dioxide,” Tianyi Sun, climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, told WIRED magazine.
Among the main sources of methane is waste management.
Reducing waste can help bring down methane emissions. There’s also a bonus benefit–reducing waste will also help businesses address increasing waste removals costs, which have risen steadily over the past few decades, and is worsening with the industry’s current hiring challenges.
So on a practical level, here’s how businesses can start to reduce waste:
- Move towards Zero Waste, and consider TRUE Zero-Waste certification. Learn how businesses can start to go Zero Waste in 3 steps.
- Reduce contamination of current waste streams to maintain the value of recyclables and keep them from the landfill. Learn more.
- Address organics (composting produces significantly less methane than landfill). Learn more in our guide to organics for business and organizations.
- Manage waste upstream. Re-examine purchasing. Now is the time to look for vendors that offer less packaging or sustainable alternatives and make the switch to prioritize purchasing of items with recycled content and/or other sustainable designation such as sustainably harvested. Learn more about how Great Forest can help with downstream capture and upstream management.
2) Track and Report Your Impact
If you know your businesses’ carbon footprint, chances are you work for a Fortune 500 or S&P 500 company. The biggest companies on the planet take ESG and future planning seriously. They want to know the environment in which they are operating now, and how that might change and affect their futures.
“If you’re not moving forward on things like the environment, you’ll be uninvestable in certain parts of the investor universe… it’s just becoming too important to investors,” Larry Wieseneck, Cowen co-president, told an online conference for CFOs sponsored by the American Institute of CPAs.
As a result, sustainability reporting, including the inclusion of ESG scores is increasing. Businesses need to show that they are making sustainability a priority, and that they are taking action to reduce their climate impact.
According to the GRI, The 2020 KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting found almost all (96%) of the world’s largest 250 companies (the G250) report on their sustainability performance. For the N100 –5,200 companies comprising the largest 100 firms in 52 countries – 80% do so.
Support for mandatory sustainability reporting is also increasing, with G7 and the G20 Finance Ministers’ calling on companies to act now to get adequate sustainability reporting processes in place, as noted recently by EY, Deloitte, KPMG International, and PwC.
So on a practical level, here’s how businesses can start to track and report their ESG impact:
- Calculate waste-related GHG emissions. Understanding waste-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (eg: from transportation and waste treatment processes) will give you a better picture of your businesses’ impact. After all, for many businesses and buildings, waste is the #2 contributor to GHG emissions, behind energy. Click here to calculate your GHG from waste now.
- Invest in carbon footprint accounting. Documenting and analyzing this information provides a blueprint for taking steps toward curbing an organization’s environmental impact. Every business, including small and medium-sized businesses, will benefit from this exercise.
- Conduct a Waste Audit. A waste audit gives you the waste data you need for reporting and more.
3) Educate and Engage
“As business leaders, we need to recognize that our people are our greatest asset — our superpower,” Punit Renjen, the CEO of Deloitte Global, noted recently on CNN, while announcing his company’s roll out of an education effort for all 330,000 of its professional staff worldwide.
“By building a workforce of climate advocates and a culture of climate action, we will create a network of support for a transition to sustainable business models with far-reaching influence,” he wrote.
Deloitte is spot on about this in two ways. First, they are showing leadership by setting the tone from top down. If management shows that they are ready, willing and able to address climate change, so will employees. Secondly, they are engaging and enlisting their global team to gather support to ensure the company succeeds in its climate goals.
But not every business has the resources of a global corporation to launch an organization-wide ESG or sustainability program.
So on a practical level, here’s how any businesses can educate and engage staff:
- Appoint a green leader or assemble green teams. Every business, or even office, can benefit from having a green leader, who acts as the point person for all things related to sustainability; or a green team that can provide the bridge, helping to bring concerns and questions about green issues to management, while helping to highlight company accomplishments and boost morale.
- Implement regular education programs to remind staff about how the company’s waste program works, and alert them to any changes in processes or procedures. Help everyone understand that waste reduction is an effective climate action.